State officials have goal to keep schools open

Several schools have announced closures as COVID-19 cases in their communities rise. Meanwhile, state officials Tuesday stressed the importance of keeping schools open statewide and put other restrictions into place with that goal in mind.

“We do have concerns about the negative consequences of school closures for all children, but especially for disadvantaged learners,” Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said during Tuesday’s press conference, adding later, “As we’re thinking about restrictions, we still want to do everything we can to keep schools open because they are so important and hopefully these other restrictions we’re putting in place will help us keep schools open.”

The Sussex Academy of Arts and Sciences in Georgetown and Laurel School District both announced several-week closures this week.

Sussex Academy will move to full remote instruction for the remainder of this week, and stay that way until at least early December, as COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the community and state.

“We can only expect that the number of cases that will impact our ability to provide in-person instruction will continue to rise,” a letter to families states.

The closure will take families through Thanksgiving break, which runs Nov. 23-27, and continue through Dec. 4 to “allow families to monitor their health and the situation within the local communities.”

Sussex Academy plans to return to hybrid Dec. 7. The charter added that it is “committed to completing the fall sports season as long as the State of Delaware and DIAA permits events to occur.”

“We are proud of our staff and students for their diligence in following our protocols, and we believe this has played a huge part in preventing any spread within our schools,” the letter states. “We have been able to complete 9 full weeks of school that has included in-person instruction for over 800 of our students. While we have had students test positive for COVID-19, all of the cases have been traced to contact in the household; none of our cases have been connected to contact within school. The efforts of our students and staff allowed us to successfully implement our reopening plan under these difficult times.”

Meanwhile all Laurel School District students will move to remote learning today through Thanksgiving break after a number of positive COVID-19 cases, officials announced.

“This decision was not made lightly, and I certainly understand that it may cause great frustration and disruption to some [of] our families’ schedules. For that I am sorry,” a letter posted to the district’s website stated. “But, again, The Laurel School District must continue to keep the wellbeing and safety of our students and staff at the forefront of our decision-making during this pandemic.”

The schools are set to reopen after Thanksgiving break.

The decision came as the district had originally prepared to close Laurel Elementary School this week through Thanksgiving, and all other district schools next week. But officials learned of a middle school student who had “direct contact with 48 total individuals including students, fellow bus-riders, teachers, support staff members and administrators,” according to the letter.

Out of an “abundance of caution and the overwhelming obligation to keep all our students and educators safe,” the district opted to switch to full remote learning for about two weeks.

Milford School District also closed three schools Monday after several COVID-19 cases were reported. The district reopened two for learning Tuesday, but the third — its high school, which hadn’t officially brought all its grade levels back yet — remained closed.

Morris Early Childhood Center and Banneker Elementary School reopened Tuesday after DPH considered the several cases on the campuses were “low risk,” a spokeswoman said.

The district continues to work with DPH regarding the positive cases of two Milford High School individuals, the spokeswoman said.

The closures come as the state is facing an increase in cases. One of the criteria for school reopening — new cases per 100,000 — jumped to 216.9 from last week’s data (135.9), putting it further into the “red” category for the third week in a row.

The rates show a reflection of the community, more so than what’s going on in schools, however, Dr. Rattay explained.

She said there have been five instances where DPH has seen in-school spread in Delaware.

“Although the schools have been dealing with a lot of positive cases, those cases are infections brought in from the outside,” she said.

Other states and even European countries have experienced something similar, she added. In Europe, they’ve been able to close some aspects of their communities while keeping schools open. Ultimately, the hope for the state is to keep schools open, she said.

“Schools are safe because our educators and our staff are really doing a great job with putting these mitigation protocols in place, so they end up being very controlled environments for staff and the students,” she said.

Along those lines, some districts sent letters to families Monday, urging them to keep up safety protocols outside of school.

In Appoquinimink, the district acknowledged that numbers are climbing in the state and nationally.

In the letter, Superintendent Matt Burrows shared the district’s data: 26 students and seven staff are actively positive and cannot attend school until they are cleared by DPH. A total of 209 staff and students are quarantined. (That number (209) represents less than 2% of the total hybrid and virtual learning community, he wrote.)

“That said, we are fully aware of the challenge ahead. Experts have long warned that case numbers would increase dramatically once colder weather and the holiday season arrived,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cape Henlopen acknowledged concerns families had about the district moving from its hybrid model to remote after it has experienced positive cases for staff and students.

“Please know that it is not our desire, nor do we have any immediate plans to do so,” Superintendent Bob Fulton wrote. “This increase is concerning and must be used as a reminder of the importance of following COVID-19 protocols in the community and with friends and family in our homes.”

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, large gatherings are top of mind. Mr. Fulton asked families to think about their plans.

“I request that as you consider plans for Thanksgiving vacation, you limit your family’s exposure to potentially COVID positive friends/family,” he wrote. “Keep your circles/celebrations small, and if you are traveling please consider returning to town in time to be tested prior to returning to school. Our ability to keep schools open depends on everyone doing their part when students are not in school.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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